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Mr. Denham: I hope that I can be brief. These amendments made in another place reflect the constructive exchange that I had with the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on Report on 10 July.
By Report, I think that a consensus had been reached that the Home Secretary of the day should have the power to intervene in a force when all other local avenues for addressing poor performance had failed. We had also reached agreement that in order to ensure that effective remedial measures are taken, the Home Secretary should be able to call upon the police authority to submit an action plan.
The intention behind the Government amendments, agreed on Report, was that while the Home Secretary should be able to direct a police authority to submit an action plan, he should not be able to make a direction as to the remedial measures to be contained in the plan. However, it was evident from the debate that that intention did not come through sufficiently clearly in the revised clause 5.
The amendments made in another place simply seek to put beyond doubt that the content of an action plan is entirely a matter for the police authority, in consultation with the chief officer. The Home Secretary will be able to comment on the plan if he thinks that it does not adequately address the failings identified in the report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, but he cannot insist that changes be made.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I thank the Minister for the way in which he has handled this legislation all the way through and the constructive way in which he has approached disagreements, which these amendments, as he says, seek to deal with. The House is aware that clause 5 was originally removed in the other place as a result of widespread concern expressed on both sides of the other place, from all levels of the police force and from the Association of Police Authorities. All of us
The House will be unsurprised to know that we welcome these amendments, but it must be said that they represent the Government's final retreat from the swingeing powers of intervention that clause 5 in its original form represented. We said from the outset that the Home Secretary should not be able to require action plans purely on his own whim; now, he will not, as such a requirement must be the result of an inspection report. We said that he should not be able to direct chief officers; now, he will not, as we have re-interposed police authorities. We also said that he should not be able to dictate the content of the action plans. Now, these amendments remove the final vestige of those powers, so they are welcome.
However, let no one be in any doubt about the huge effective power that the Home Secretary has, and which he will continue to have as a result of the Bill. The Home Secretary himself seeks to underestimate that power, yet it is obvious on looking at the street crime initiative. We welcome the amendments, but despite them, it will be a brave chief officer who goes against the declared wishes of the Home Secretary. Although I wish the legislation well when it is enacted, I hope that there remain some such courageous chief officers.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): This is an unusual event for me, in that I happily delegated Police Reform Bill responsibilities to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and I pay tribute to him and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) for their work.
As the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and the Minister suggested, we are left with one issue. As the Minister knows, the reality is that many issues were bounced around in respect of a Bill that was generally acceptable; however, accountability remained a big issue throughout its consideration. To be honest, it took a lot of effort on the part of both Houses to sort out the central issuethe relationship between the Home Secretary of the day, police authorities and the chief officers.
The provisions are the result of efforts on all sides to try to understand that the Bill ought not to change the constitutional position. Chief officers, once appointed, have operational authority, and they are accountable to police authorities, not to the Home Secretary. I pay tribute to my colleagues, and to Conservative and Labour Members, for understanding that point in the end, and for trying to ensure that some agreement was reached. The provisions are the result of that process.
It is good, too, that the same relationship is understood in respect of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squadthe two bodies with national policing responsibility. The reality in Britain at the moment is that we have two national squads in England and in Wales, a regional police force for Londonthe Metropolitan police forceand other
We are left with areas in which, to our sadness, we still do not have accountability. The Minister knows what they are, and we are still sad to note that the option remains of the police accrediting people who are not police officers to do their support job. That is not truly accountable policing. In effect, such people constitute privatised, private sector support for the police. Instead, they should be accountable to local authorities or to central police authorities. We tried hard to amend the Bill so that both transport and special community support officersaccredited officersand accredited officers in general, were covered by the complaints system. In other words, if a member of the public was concerned about the activity of somebody who was not a police officerbut who was working for, or accredited by, the policethey could raise them in the same way. We regret that these amendments do not go so far as to include that provision.
That is not to say that progress was not made, of which these amendments are the last symbol. There were significant achievements, such as the removal of the Henry VIII clause. The principle of no detention for community support officers was also dealt with at the end of the negotiations. Also, the giving of directions directly to chief officers gave way to a much more proper relationship between the Home Secretary and the police authorities, leaving the authorities to decide what they should do.
We accept the amendments and we will not divide the House today. As the Minister knows, we did not press other matters in the Lords on which we disagreed with the Government because we accepted the merit of getting this legislation on to the statute book before the summer recess. However, I hope that two messages have come out loud and clear from our deliberationsone for the Government and the other for the police. I hope the Government have got the message that Parliament will resist policing becoming a tool of central Government. We have made that point in both Houses and preserved the proper status quo, and I do not believe that Parliament has the will to change that. The message that I hope the police have got from this legislation is that, in certain respectsparticularly nowthey must do better. The Billthis is the last piece of the jigsawhas given the police the power to employ many additional people, as civilians, to assist them. They now have the power to accredit other civilians as support officers to help them, and to employ community support officers to work for the police. Potentially, the police have another army of people, in addition to specials and to full-time officers.
To the Government's credit, there are now more police officers than at any stage in recent history, and more money has recently been provided for policing. With all that on the table, the public expect two things. They expect a better clear-up rateon average, the current rate is under 25 per cent., and in places such as London it is only 11 per cent.and they expect a better response rate. Those messages, which have come out in all the debates on law and order in our communities and across the country, should be heard loud and clear by the police. We